Etiquette, one aspect of decorum, is a code that governs the expectations of social behavior, according to the Convention (norm)|conventional Norm (sociology)|norm within a society, social class, or group. Usually unwritten, it may be codified in written form. Etiquette usually reflects formulas of conduct in which society]] or tradition have invested. An etiquette may reflect an underlying ethical code, or in may grow more as a fashion, as in eighteenth century Britain where apparently pointless acts like the manner in which a tea cup was held became important as indicators of upper class status. Like "culture", it is a word that has gradually grown plural, especially in a multi-ethnic society with many clashing expectations. Thus, it is now possible to refer to "an etiquette" or "a culture", realizing that these may not be universal. In Britain, though, the word etiquette has its roots in the eighteenth century, becoming a universal force in the nineteenth century to the extent that it has been described as the one word that aptly describes life during the reign of Queen Victoria .
Norms and effects of etiquetteEdit
Etiquette fundamentally prescribes and restricts the ways in which people interact with each other, and show their respect for other people by conforming to the norms of society.
Modern etiquette instructs people to greet friends and acquaintances with warmth and respect, refrain from insults and prying curiosity, offer hospitality equally and generously to guests, wear clothing suited to the occasion, contribute to conversations without dominating them, offer assistance to those in need, eat neatly and quietly, avoid disturbing others with unnecessary noise, follow the established rules of an organization upon becoming a member, arrive promptly when expected, comfort the bereaved, and respond to invitations promptly.
By way of contrast, Roman etiquette varied by class. In the upper strata of Roman society, etiquette would have instructed a man to: greet friends and acquaintances with decorum, according to their rank, refrain from showing emotions in public, keep his womenfolk secluded from his clients, support his family's position with public munificence, and so on.
Violations of etiquette, if severe, can cause public disgrace, and in private hurt individual feelings, create misunderstandings or real grief and pain, and can even escalate into murderous rage. Many family feuds have their beginnings in trivial etiquette violations that were blown out of proportion. In the ancient Hindu epic Mahabharata, the entire world-destroying conflict between the armies of two clans begins when one ruler, Duryodhana, commits a couple of minor faux pas at his cousin's castle, and is impolitely made fun of for it. One can reasonably view etiquette as the minimal politics required to avoid major conflict in polite society, and as such, an important aspect of applied ethics.
In the West, the notion of etiquette, being of French origin and arising from practices at the court of Louis XIV of France, is occasionally disparaged as old-fashioned or elite, a code concerned only with "which fork to use". Some people consider etiquette to be an unnecessary restriction of freedom of personal expression; others consider such free spirits to be unmannerly and rude. For instance, wearing pajamas to a wedding in a cathedral may be an expression of the guest's freedom, but may also cause the bride and groom to suspect that the guest in pajamas is expressing amusement or disparagement towards them and their wedding. Etiquette may be enforced in pragmatic ways: "No shoes, no shirt, no service" is a notice commonly displayed outside stores and cafés in the warmer parts of North America. Others feel that a single, basic code shared by all makes life simpler and more pleasant by removing many chances for misunderstandings.
Manners involve a wide range of social interactions within cultural norms as in the "comedy of manners", or a painter's characteristic "manner". Etiquette and manners, like mythology, have buried histories especially when they seem to have little obvious purpose, and their justifications as logical ("respect shown to others" etc.) may be equally revealing to the social history.
Etiquette is dependent on culture; what is excellent etiquette in one society may shock in another. Etiquette evolves within culture. The Dutch painter Andries Both shows that the hunt for head lice, which had been a civilized grooming occupation in the early Middle Ages, a bonding experience that reinforced the comparative rank of two people, one groomed, one groomer, had become a peasant occupation by 1630. The painter portrays the familiar operation matter-of-factly, without the sarcasm this subject would have received in a nineteenth-century representation.
Etiquette can vary widely between different cultures and nations. In China, a person who takes the last item of food from a common plate or bowl without first offering it to others at the table may be seen as a glutton and insulting the generosity of the host, similarly, amongst older Australian women, a woman who takes the last item of food is called the old spinster, whilst in most European cultures a guest is expected to eat all of the food given to them, as a compliment to the quality of the cooking. In some societies it is considered disgusting to eat with the left hand, because the left hand is reserved for dirty tasks, and left handed individuals are sometimes forced to use their right hand. This is also true for the Muslim culture where the right is considered more important. For example, while putting on a shirt, it is considered more acceptable to put on the right arm first.
Etiquette is a topic that has occupied writers and thinkers in all sophisticated societies for millennia, beginning with a behavior code by Ptahhotep, a vizier in ancient Egypt's Old Kingdom during the reign of the Fifth Dynasty king Djedkare Isesi (ca. 2414–2375 B.C.). All known literate civilizations, including ancient Greece and Rome, developed rules for proper social conduct. Confucius included rules for eating and speaking along with his more philosophical sayings. Early modern conceptions of what behavior identifies a "gentleman" were codified in the sixteenth century, in a book by Baldassare Castiglione, Il Cortegiano ("The Courtier"); its codification of expectations at the Este court remained in force in its essentials until World War I. Louis XIV established an elaborate and rigid court ceremony, but distinguished himself from the high bourgeoisie by continuing to eat, stylishly and fastidiously, with his fingers. An important book about etiquette is Galateo, overo de' costumi by Monsignor Giovanni della Casa; in fact, in Italian, etiquette is generally called galateo (or etichetta or protocollo).
In the American colonies Benjamin Franklin and George Washington wrote codes of conduct for young gentlemen. The immense popularity of advice columns and books by Letitia Baldrige and Judith Martin (Miss Manners) shows the currency of this topic. Even more recently, the rise of the Internet has necessitated the adaptation of existing rules of conduct to create Netiquette, which governs the drafting of email, rules for participating in online forums, and so on.
Etiquette may be wielded as a social weapon. The outward adoption of the superficial mannerisms of an in-group, in the interests of social advancement rather than a concern for others, is a form of snobbism, lacking in virtue. This is totally off on what etiquette really means.